Last week’s late night inspection tour of the Meru Hospital in Arusha Region by the Arumeru District Commissioner, Jerry Muro, has opened a can of worms.
A video clip showing Mr Muro in the hospital’s reception area – and some night medical staff fleeing into nearby rooms as if they had been invaded – has gone viral on social media.
It’s a melodramatic scenario that leaves many questions unanswered. One is whether or not political leaders should seek prior advice and otherwise make relevant consultations before pursuing certain issues in professional/sensitive settings, such as hospitals.
Indeed, the Medical Association of Tanzania (MAT) has already raised questions on the Meru Hospital visit by the DC, a presidential political appointee.
Although the DC may have had good intentions, what appears in the video clip does not augur particularly well for the medical fraternity.
In the clip, the nurse who opened the door to the reception area for the DC is seen scampering off upon realising that she was being recorded on camera.
Perhaps also awed by the DC’s impromptu night inspection visit, several other medical staff are seen scrambling out of their makeshift ‘dozing beds’ placed in an emergency room where they had been resting.
Then, as the DC crisscrossed the facility’s corridors, several challenges became apparent. First: there clearly is a critical shortage of accommodation and facilities for medical staff who attend to patients during on-call shifts.
To cope with the shortage of on-call rooms, medical personnel usually take short naps in empty patients’ beds or lie on mattresses spread out on the floor.
But, the second challenge – which in fact prompted this article – is what Mr Muro observed and later commented upon after inspecting the hospital’s wards and out-patient care rooms.
In his assessment of the health facility’s staff and how they work, the DC said in ki-Swahili: ‘Tulichokuta…watu wanaotakiwa kuwa kwenye maeneo yao, hawakuwa kwenye maeneo yao…wengine unakuta wamejifungia; wamelala, tena wamelala kwenye ofisi kabisa… ukifungua mlango wanakurupuka na kukimbia…(What we found [at this hospital] was that staff who were supposed to be at their work stations were not there … some had locked themselves in rooms, while others were in fact sleeping in offices… on opening the door, they ran away…)’’
Perhaps the DC wanted to demonstrate to the medical staff at the Mount Meru Hospital that he is ‘one with them’ in the quest to provide round-the-clock health services to fellow Tanzanians. However, his visit ended up triggering ethical concerns among medical professionals.
It has now dawned on me that Mr Muro may not have known that it is the right of a health worker to take a rest in a nearby room at night when he/she is on-call – and more so in late night hours.
This echoes the message I read in a local newspaper on Saturday, whereby the President of the Medical Association of Tanzania, Dr Elish Osati, said “a nurse or doctor is not a night guard … when he/she is on call, it means he/she should be awakened, just in case, to attend to a patient – and should not be wide awake, open-eyed all the time.”
Later, a short message on the official Twitter page of the Medical Association reiterated Dr Osati’s stance on DC Muro’s approach, stressing why it was not proper for the District political chief to expose on camera the medics who were resting in the offices.
Doctors who commented on MAT’S tweet agreed that the presidential appointee was not right to intrude on the privacy of the medical staff who were taking what was no doubt a well-deserved rest in the offices. This is notwithstanding the fact that the medics are also contending with a shortage of on-call rooms.
It’s understandable and justified that the medical community would be perturbed by the incident. In recent years, relationships between medical doctors and politicians have not been particularly healthy, and something must be done soonest to remedy this.
Perhaps that’s why the Minister of State in the President’s Office responsible for Regional Administration and Local Government (PO-RALG), Mr Selemani Jaffo, apologised on behalf of RCs and DCs to the medical fraternity during MAT’s recent annual general meeting.